Giacometti: Whom Did You Brush Past Today?

It is well documented that Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) was obsessed with finding the truth in life by sketching, painting and shaping things again and again.  However, transforming or recombining old ideas is not an unusual approach for artists and designers who strive for getting new ideas. People often get new ideas through mental imagery, or externally through sketching, verbal expression or modeling configurations. Illegible personal scribbles could not be easily deciphered by laypeople. Only those who have persisted in reexamining and revising the original idea over and over before completing work (in some cases, they might remain unfinished forever) could understand that the revisions, implementations, and duplications were made better than the first version.

I think what made Giacometti stand out for a necessary iteration was his godlike powers to “form and reform living compositions” evoking the movement of people or solitary figures in the street. I feel it was his perpetual placement of walking and standing figures extended the vulnerable humanity beyond the sculptural space. The ambiguity of the partial unconnected ideas fosters the discovery of inner contradiction between the creator and the audience. The ambiguity demands configuration for sense-making, at the same time, it triggers the new interpretations.

We are the interpreters. We are capable of interpreting and reinterpreting ambiguous things in a problem space. In Giacometti’s framing of space, we get to play along with him, and it is not what we see, but how we see it.  In a real world, for better or for worse, we use to see all sorts of strangers every day in both virtual and physical environments: in the street, on the subway station, in the museum, at the restaurant, on the internet, unavoidably through a mental filter. Some with attractive faces and recognizable dresses that register us with certain lifestyle and product; some might lead us to injustice and stereotyping due to gender, race, age or nationality.

I feel that Giacometti invited us to see beyond face value. When the most striking features of a human being are factored out, we might begin to see true characteristics of him or her. Whom did you brush past today?

[Note: I started writing the post when I came across Giacometti’s work at Moderna Museet in Stockholm last summer, but I didn’t have a chance to finish it up until after I visited this exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York the other day.]

Meeting Giacometti’s Striding Men unexpectedly at Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2017

“I am very interested in art but I am instinctively more interested in truth…. The more I work, the more I see differently.” –Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)

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